Earlier this month, the state supreme court rejected a defendant’s challenge to his conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon pursuant to an indictment that failed to comport with a statutory pleading requirement. That case, State v. Newborn, 330PA21, ___ N.C. ___ (June 16, 2023), is the latest in a decade of rulings determining that technical pleading defects do not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction. This post will review Newborn and consider its place among jurisprudence departing from the traditional view that a defective pleading fails to vest jurisdiction.
Earlier this month, the Third Circuit, sitting en banc, found the federal felon-in-possession statute unconstitutional as applied. The decision was based on the new interpretive approach announced in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, 597 U.S. __, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022). The Third Circuit’s ruling is a massive decision that seems virtually certain to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Keep reading for more details.
A Virginia grand jury indicted Michael Currier for burglary, grand larceny, and unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon for his alleged involvement in stealing a safe containing guns and cash from another man’s home in March 2012. Currier’s prior convictions for burglary and larceny gave rise to the felon-in-possession charge. To avoid having evidence about those prior convictions introduced in connection with the new burglary and larceny charges, Currier (and the government) agreed to severance of the felon-in-possession charge so that it could be tried separately. The burglary and larceny charges were tried first, and Currier was acquitted. Currier then moved to dismiss the felon-in-possession charge, arguing that the second trial was barred by double jeopardy, or, alternatively, that the government should be precluded from introducing at that trial any evidence about the burglary and larceny for which he had just been acquitted. The trial court rejected Currier’s arguments, and he was tried and convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Virginia’s appellate courts affirmed the conviction. The United States Supreme Court granted review and, last Friday, issued its opinion in the case.
North Carolina law prohibits a person who has been convicted of a felony from possessing a firearm. The prohibition, set forth in G.S. 14-415.1, contains narrow exceptions, such as for antique firearms. The question has arisen in several cases whether a person with a prior felony conviction may possess a firearm if necessary to defend himself or others—in other words, whether the person may rely on a justification defense.
Federal law and North Carolina law each prohibit in their own ways the possession of a firearm by a felon and, under federal law, certain domestic violence misdemeanors as well. A recent Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals case ruled that a North Carolina felony conviction did not qualify to prove the federal offense of possession of a firearm by felon. The fact that this conviction likely would qualify for the North Carolina offense leads to this post that provides a general overview of the differences.
Thirteen-year-old Nathan Clark and his teammates traveled from Winston-Salem to Raleigh last Friday night to play in a weekend soccer tournament. The team never took the field. As Clark slept in his hotel room Friday evening, a gun discharged in an adjacent room, sending a bullet through the wall and into the back of Clark’s head. Clark died before he could be transported to the hospital.
The man in the room next door, Randall Louis Vater, was a convicted felon who was prohibited by law from possessing a gun. Vater had been out of jail only two weeks, having been released on October 25 after serving a sentence for violating a domestic violence protective order. Vater was charged with involuntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm by a felon based on Clark’s death. He is being held in the Wake County Jail under a $1 million bond.
Authorities have said nothing about how the gun went off. Assuming that the discharge was accidental, could Vater be charged with first-degree murder under the theory of felony murder?
The court of appeals issued opinions today. I haven’t looked at all of them, but State v. Best jumped out at me because it provides an authoritative answer to a question that I have often been asked: when a defendant is convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon, may his prior felony (the … Read more